Inaugural Poet Laureate
Becoming American: An Inaugural Poet’s Journey
Richard Blanco’s family arrived in Madrid, Spain from Cuba, where he was born in 1968. Eventually, the family settled in Miami, where he was raised and educated. Growing up among close-knit Cuban exiles instilled in him a strong sense of community, dignity, and identity that he’d carry into his adult life as a writer.
Though possessed by a strong creative spirit since childhood, Blanco also excelled in math and the sciences. His parents encouraged him to study engineering, believing it would ensure a more stable and rewarding career for him. He took their advice, earning a degree from Florida International University in 1991, and began working as a consulting civil engineer in Miami. In his mid-20s he was compelled to express his creative side through writing, prompted by questions of cultural identity and his personal history. He returned to Florida International University, where he was mentored by the poet Campbell McGrath, and earned a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing in 1997.
In 2004, Blanco resumed his engineering career. Engineer by day, he designed several town revitalization projects; poet by night, he began working on another collection before moving once again, this time to Bethel, Maine, where he sought the peace and tranquility of nature. While in Maine, he completed his third book of poetry, Looking for The Gulf Motel (2012), which related Blanco’s complex navigation through his cultural, sexual, and artistic identities, and received the Paterson Poetry Prize, the 2012 Maine Literary Award for Poetry, and the Thom Gunn Award.
President Barack Obama selected Blanco in 2012 to serve as the fifth inaugural poet in U.S. history, joining the ranks of such luminary poets as Robert Frost and Maya Angelou. The youngest, first Latino, immigrant, and gay person to serve in such a role, Blanco read “One Today,” an original poem he wrote for the occasion, at Obama’s inauguration ceremony on January 21, 2013. In For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet’s Journey (2013), he shared the emotional details of his experiences as inaugural poet and reflected on his understanding of what it means to be an American.